SEVEN AND THE RAGGED TIGER

Seven is a highly potent number. It concluded the head-count for both dwarves and Samurai; it provided us with the seas, the deadly sins, the colours of the rainbow, the wonders of the ancient world and the ages of man. It gave us the right quota of brides for the right quota of brothers, the amount of years for a marital itch, the veils needed for Salome’s erotic dance routine, the title of a disturbing 90s horror movie, Enid Blyton’s secret alternative to her famous quintet, the necessary inches for the classic pop single, the correct collection of rogues for an intergalactic outlaw called Blake, and – of course – the assembled days of the week. It seems to have followed me around. I was born in a year ending in seven, lived at a No.7 for the best part of two decades, and my current home is a residence whose separate flat and house numbers add up to…you guessed it. And now I have seven months on the clock to measure my faltering progress through the brave new world I was dumped in as 2017 drew to a grim full stop.

Careful – I’m perilously close to a pattern so familiar on Twitter, that of relentlessly focusing on the one topic over and over again with mouth-frothing fanaticism. I never used to do that, but I never previously wrote for this blog whilst trying to recover from…er…well, a breakdown. No touchy-feely alternative word for it. I certainly don’t want any of my jottings to be viewed as ‘therapeutic’ as a consequence, however. Even if trying to get back into the habit is undeniably a form of therapy for me, I should imagine coming to such posts as a reader when burdened with that awareness could make approaching them akin to a ‘duty’, precluding either enjoyment or stimulation and reducing the whole exercise to the reading equivalent of a professional goalkeeper allowing a special needs child to score a penalty for charity. I’m sure a holiday in Salisbury would seem more appealing right now.

OK, let’s try to widen the picture a little by saying Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Bored already, alas. Mind you, it was two years ago when we all made our way to the polling station and cast our vote, so should the subject still be the main headline day-after-never-ending-day? Tiresome doom ‘n’ gloom predictions abound on both sides if it does/doesn’t turn out how either want it; and I’m afraid I’ve reached the point where I’m beginning to not care anymore. Most days, I feel as though this country is incurably f***ed anyway, but that’s probably because on many of those days I feel as though I’m incurably f***ed. Sorry, it’s not you; it’s me.

I ain’t no Jacob Rees-Mogg, extolling the economic virtues of Britain breaking with the EU whilst relocating my Russia-friendly business interests to Brussels-friendly Eire; and I ain’t no Lord Adonis, wistfully waving goodbye to the Continent from the window-seat of a private plane flying over the Alps with a teary-eye that foresees endless referenda until the desirable result is achieved. At the same time, much like that gruesome twosome, mine is not an objective perspective right now – though I at least have the decency to leave the subject alone as a result.

I suppose I could indulge in the contemporary trend of anniversary-marking to fill otherwise empty column inches; it’s not like I haven’t before, after all. This year we’ve got 10 since the financial crash, 30 since Acid House, 50 since the Paris Spring, 70 since the birth of the NHS, and a century since women in the UK won the vote (well, as long as they were over 30). The latter two have received the most attention, with the NHS anniversary in particular plumbing a nauseating nadir of sentimental media waffle that has run parallel with – and appears contradicted by – the shocking revelations from Gosport and Chester. Mysteriously, very little coverage has been given to the impenetrable layers of self-interested and self-satisfied management swallowing up the bags of cash that governments routinely throw towards the NHS in the hope some of it will filter down to frontline nurses and patients. But I guess that doesn’t fit the celebratory narrative.

Anyway, I’m not really paying attention. My much-missed feline companion passed away two years ago this month, yet just the other night the light caught one of her long-discarded nails embedded in the carpet – unseen since 2016. This tiny, seemingly insignificant fragment of a friend lost to me forever felt like an invaluable, precious gemstone when I excavated it; but any trinket touched by the lost keeps them close when we can no longer draw them to our breast. Some bin or burn such mementos because they cannot bear to be reminded; others find these articles imbued with a comforting resonance that serves as evidence they really were in our lives and we didn’t imagine them. As someone once said, was it just a dream? Seemed so real to me.

But, what the hell! School’s (almost) out for summer, so let’s switch our attention to the World Cup and Wimbledon. Better that than allow our eyes to linger on ladies’ legs and other exposed body parts lest we incur the wrath of those who permit female drooling over topless Aidan Turner whilst simultaneously condemning male longing to varnish the delicious porcelain flesh of Demelza with one’s tongue. Long may her Cornish bosom heave, for drama is one of the Beeb’s few remaining assets; by contrast, claims by the BBC’s box-ticking ‘comedy controller’ that the Pythons wouldn’t happen today because they were ‘too white’ gives an indication why the corporation’s current comedic output is so dire. The sun must have gone to his diversity-mangled head.

I remember 1976, but it was different then; I did things in hot weather I can’t do today. Besides, fun wasn’t as ‘organised’ forty-two years ago as it is now; adult involvement in childhood summer pursuits was mercifully minimal. I feel fortunate to have had the freedom to climb trees, kick balls past woollen goalposts, and arrange toy soldiers for a pitched battle to the strains of ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’. I steered clear of the Boy Scouts and the Cubs because I didn’t want grown-ups imposing their twee, sanitised idea of fun upon me. Pity the poor monitored kids of 2018’s heat-wave, who have never been left to their own devices and consequently can’t entertain themselves.

No, the best thing about this time of year – if you burn the midnight oil, of course – is reluctantly retiring to bed around 3.00am and catching one last look at the world outside your window. The landscape still consists of silhouettes, but the sky isn’t black; it’s a luscious shade of blue that enables you to already discern the next day on the horizon, as though it were a great wave rolling towards you in slow motion, one that only matures into its finished form when it washes over you several hours later, stirring you from slumber in the process. That’s a nice image to leave you with, at least. You don’t need a weather-man to know which way the wind blows; but may you always have a tiger in your tank.

 

© The Editor

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THE WAY WE LIVE NOW…AND THEN

We may hate it, but advertising slogans can often linger. ‘Say it with Flowers’ said Interflora; and, as it happens, whenever I think of Interflora, I think of Interpol. Perhaps the association stems from an obvious gag on something like ‘The Two Ronnies’; many of their gags were obvious, but the obviousness of them was overridden by the comic charm of the performers. Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, flowers – delivered to the doors of the consummated as well as the unrequited, sometimes motivated by guilt, sometimes by the need to remind someone you love them. They make an ideal house-warming gift, for example, when it comes to a new residence, being as they are the most potent symbols of rebirth and regeneration when love is in the air.

No, I’m NOT going to write about that shameless exhibitionist’s manual known as ‘Love Island’; besides, Nigel Kneale beat me to it by half-a-century with his unnervingly accurate satire on lowest-common-denominator twenty-first century television, 1968’s ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’. This remarkable example of cultural soothsaying is one of the most uncanny crystal balls in TV history. If you haven’t seen it, do; once you get over the occasionally theatrical acting and groovy 60s aesthetic impression of the future, the way in which it predicts the worst our goggle-box can offer today will evoke associations with everything from ‘Castaway’ and ‘Big Brother’ to the aforementioned STD-through-the-keyhole voyeur-fest on ITV2 and even the grotesque Smartphone suicide-watch trend. The dialogue – short, snappy and uncomfortably familiar in its irritating abbreviations – mirrors Orwell’s belief in how language will eventually be narrowed and compressed into simple sound-bites. The ominous first words on-screen are ‘Sooner than you think…’

The play’s oft-stated division between the privileged and the rest (‘High Drives’ and ‘Low Drives’) inevitably evokes the Us and Them gap that the Brexit vote exposed; but to me it also anticipates the downgrading of one particular demographic in this country – one that is firmly rock bottom on the social scale fifty years later. A recent ‘initiative’ by a leading publisher that sought the input of unpublished authors made it clear who they were looking for. London-based, Oxbridge-educated chattering-class warriors burdened by the unbearable baggage of box-ticking have their preferred minorities to pat on the head and patronise, as novelist Lionel Shriver has bravely pointed out (much to her predictable Twitter crucifixion); and if you happen to emanate from a white working-class background free of further education, forget it. You are very much Low Drive – or ‘Gammon’, if you prefer; it’s the insult it’s OK to eat between meals without ruining your appetite.

For some, it matters not how many Sikhs are photographed with their arms round him, as Tommy Robinson’s EDL past will always brand him a white supremacist; but both sides of the barricades have their own version of the truth and never the twain shall meet. Like similar headline-grabbing stunts by Peter Tatchell, the amateur agent-provocateur tactics of Robinson could be said to be looking for trouble and inviting arrest along with accompanying publicity. But maybe the climate requires such actions in order to receive any acknowledgment within media circles whose contempt for ‘the Gammon’ is evident to anyone bereft of blinkers. Somebody once proclaimed the face of Tommy Robinson will one day feature on a far-flung future bank-note. Another agitator called Thomas – the late Mr Paine – was similarly derided and demonised in his day, yet is viewed rather differently two-hundred years later, so who knows what criteria the Bank of England will employ when it comes to its cover stars of the twenty-second century? A shame Nigel Kneale isn’t around anymore. He probably would.

Another fortune-teller called Karl Marx apparently said ‘The more you have, the less you are’ – a good point if applied to those who measure their worth by the number of material goods they possess; but how is that statement interpreted by the collectivism that contemporary Marx disciples espouse, especially in the Labour Party? I’ve always been averse to collectives, instinctively recoiling from their ‘block vote’ rhetoric; I‘m too much of an individual, never a team player. If I’d been gifted with sporting prowess, I’d have been at home on the tennis court rather than the football pitch. The problem with collectivism is the compulsory sacrifice of the individual voice to the consensus, and that’s just not me, Jeremy.

Jonathan Meades in his recent excellent BBC4 treatise on the uses and abuses of the English language spent a section dissecting the collectivist clichés that arise when eleven men play eleven more; but he primarily focused on the jargon employed by the Law, politics and business to mask true intentions in a tsunami of verbal diarrhoea that is deliberately intended to leave the Gammon crying ‘My brain hurts!’, therefore throwing him back into the primordial embrace of ‘Love Island’. The sad fact is that this works because we allow it to, just as we allow one knee-jerk response to a pair of tits on a lifeboat-man’s mug to damage the public standing of the RNLI, or we allow consensual sex to be reclassified as rape. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it – whatever that means.

At one time, it could mean Noel Coward or Anthony Burgess; Margaret Rutherford or Terry Thomas; Tony Hancock or John Arlott; John Osborne or Quentin Crisp; Peter Sellers or Peter Cook; John Betjeman or John Lennon; Ian Nairn or Oliver Postgate. The Great British manufacturing industry wasn’t merely about economics; it was also about individual voices – all lost now to revisionist market forces. We don’t make ‘em like that anymore because we’ve been absorbed into the global village chain-store, flogged at half-price by a new breed of national shopkeepers.

Another neglected gem from the pen of the man who gave us ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’ was an obscure anthology series produced by ATV called ‘Beasts’; it’s creepy in that unique way only 70s TV can be, set in a Britain when the moribund and the macabre meet. One story concerned a poltergeist in a supermarket, though not the kind of supermarkets we have now; it was a store owned by one of those small regional chains that no longer exist, like Hillard’s or Vivo. Viewing this time capsule recently, I experienced a strange sensation of warmth as childhood brand names flew off the shelf at the height of the petulant spirit’s rage. Rows of Ricicles probably wouldn’t be within the poltergeist’s sights today, no doubt censored by finger-wagging government guidelines on sugar intake – let alone a version featuring Florence and Dougal on the front of the box.

And so, restlessness forced me outdoors a month ago; I went for a meandering walk – and if you’ve made it to this paragraph you’ll know by now I’m good at meandering. Unfortunately, simple exercise (physical or mental) no longer seems a valid enough reason to stroll alone. When I ended up on a local park, my aversion to collectives worked against me; I felt increasingly self-conscious re my sore thumb solo status, surrounded as I was by women and dogs. I had neither with me, though I came home to the ghosts of both. And cats. But I end where I began, thinking of flowers as potent symbols of rebirth and regeneration. Maybe I should get some. Life may now be a silver medal, but at least I can make it smell nice for a few days.

© The Editor

THROUGH THE PAST, DARKLY

Grinning and bearing my way through precisely six months of paralysis following the abrupt stopping of the clocks last December has had a funny effect on my perception of time. Frozen as both participant and observer, one way of suppressing a sense of uselessness at my sudden inability to respond to contemporary events in the customary manner has been to retreat into a digitally restored version of the past. After all, when circumstances rob you of the present and deprive you of a future in the process (or at least the future you thought you were getting), the one certainty you can turn to is the past, a place where the ground beneath your feet is reassuringly solid.

This is a painless post in terms of writing (and, one hopes, reading); it’s simply me taking a stress-free diversion into my viewing habits of the last half-year, one that may strike the odd chord merely as an entertaining interlude. And, as it’s not unusual for this blog to mine a bit of nostalgia from archive telly, I speak today of ‘Special Branch’, a series produced by ITV back in the days when it added up to a good deal more as a broadcaster than the vacuous vacuum it currently inhabits. It’s a series that has also provided me with a convenient distraction from recent events via the DVD box-set.

Originally a dramatic, franchise-justifying product of the fledgling Thames Television, ‘Special Branch’ first appeared at the fag-end of the monochrome era in late 1969. Starring the chunky-faced Derren Nesbitt as DCI Jordan, the series dramatised the middle man between CID and the Secret Service at the height of post-Philby Cold War paranoia. Nesbitt’s Jordan was a flash young buck whose startlingly dapper dress sense always made him look as if he’d just stepped off a gentleman’s fashion shoot for ‘Town’ magazine; a bit of a flamboyant oddity in stale environs populated by both stuffy Whitehall suits and crusty Met veterans, Jordan nevertheless got results as well as gorgeous ‘dollies’ resplendent in the big hair/false eyelashes/micro-dress ensembles popularised by the likes of Bobbie Gentry at the time.

Constantly thwarted by MI5 mandarin Moxon (played with slimy languor by Morris Perry), DCI Jordan eventually threw his career away when the seductive charms of recurring double-agent Christine Morris (the Bobbie Gentry blueprint par excellence) proved a little too seductive. But then, Jordan was very much a man of his time – a time when men weren’t marginalised by a media intent on portraying the male of the species (and his ‘toxic masculinity’) as the embodiment of all evil whilst simultaneously wondering why so many examples of this useless, redundant relic end up jumping off rooftops.

Like most British drama of the era, ‘Special Branch’ in its original format was divided between studio sets shot on videotape and location inserts shot on film. Occasionally, embryonic OB (Outside Broadcast) cameras were used for exteriors, but the blatantly artificial lighting and shaky visuals suggested the time was not yet right for its use as a regular system for anything beyond on-the-spot news reports. The more familiar contrast between studio VT and location film was industry standard then and only seems jarring decades after the event, as does an acting style informed more by theatre than cinema. However, it clearly irked some working in TV and eventually led to the aesthetic rebirth of the show following a two-year hiatus in 1973.

Euston Films was established by Thames as a means of shooting serious, grown-up dramas entirely on film, both indoors and outdoors, and must have been a gritty innovation in the early 70s, particularly when compared to the slicker fantasy-adventure filmed series from the ITC stable. The revived ‘Special Branch’ was its first outing and it wasn’t just the look of the series that had changed. The cast received a complete overhaul as well. Out had gone Detective Chief Inspector Jordan and his superior (played by Fulton Mackay long before he became a familiar face courtesy of a certain prisoner name of Norman Stanley Fletcher); in came the craggy countenance of DCI Alan Craven, played by George Sewell. Prior to his recruitment to the side of the good guys, Sewell had mostly been a character actor playing villains; he had a memorable role in 1971’s seminal Brit gangster flick, ‘Get Carter’. After ‘Special Branch’, he reverted to type; but in the part of Craven, Sewell excelled as a hard-boiled copper that the viewer could entirely believe in.

Considering the controversial role the actual Special Branch played in Northern Ireland in the 70s, the TV version of the department largely avoids such contentious areas and also distinguishes itself from its earlier incarnation by mostly steering clear of staple stories surrounding suspected spies and Marxist student revolutionaries. Often, the storylines seem suited to a series focusing on routine police work, though there are numerous ‘firsts’ present, not least the fact that the lead character has a girlfriend who happens to be black. Nobody would bat an eyelid at an interracial relationship today, but this was pretty groundbreaking stuff in 1973; in retrospect, the mixed-race love interest between Craven and a nurse called Pam is a refreshing development for mainstream drama and one that wasn’t built upon for several years. Moreover, there’s also the mental breakdown of a regular cast member, something which is handled with both surprising sensitivity and a welcome absence of ‘issue’-led sentimentality so commonplace in present-day soaps.

The key ingredient in the reboot of ‘Special Branch’ is the introduction of the old cop/young cop dynamic when Patrick Mower appears as DCI Haggerty; initially a ‘guest artist’ (as the opening credits imply), Mower’s arrogant and swaggering character is then bedded in as a permanent presence, providing the show with some testosterone bite and laying the foundations for the Regan & Carter double act of the series that ultimately succeeded it. Paul Eddington is also added in a pre-‘Good Life’ role as an MI5 bigwig whose urbane pomposity serves to frustrate the more hands-on approach of his subordinates on the street. The cast list is fleshed out by members of the wonderful rep company of character actors that peppers British TV drama of the 70s, some of whom eventually found leading roles of their own.

After two successful ‘seasons’ (as is now the norm to say), ‘Special Branch’ was dropped in favour of ‘The Sweeney’, a series produced by the same team, and one which took many elements from its predecessor but crucially cranked up the macho violence in the process. Thanks to consistent reruns from the early 80s onwards, the adventures of the Flying Squad have rarely been absent from our screens and have become established as the retrospective template for British police dramas, inspiring tributes as diverse as ‘Life on Mars’ and the memorable ‘Comic Strip’ homage, ‘Detectives on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’. But none of that would have happened had not ‘Special Branch’ paved the way.

I don’t know why, but an antiquated series produced in a different country has served a need almost half-a-century on for someone struggling to cope with the wasteland bequeathed to him, and has also opened a portal into a past far more alluring than anything the present can boast. An entirely irretrievable image of England, of course; but we all find our own personal panaceas when confronted by the unbearable. This has been mine – well, one of them. And when it comes to dealing with the troublesome twenty-first century, those of us who experienced at least thirty years of its predecessor can always count on its cultural artefacts to provide necessary shelter from the storm.

© The Editor

IT’S BEEN A LONG COLD LONELY WINTER

How fatal taking for granted the loyalty and devotion of one’s audience can be was never better illustrated than in the swift falling from favour of the poor old Bay City Rollers. Almost omnipotent in 1975, the nice-but-dim young Scotsmen were the UK’s belated home-grown answer to The Osmonds. Possessing the clean-cut boy-next-door appeal guaranteed to send nascent female hormones into the same overdrive as Utah’s most famous family firm had done, the rise of the Rollers dramatically served to usurp the Mormon musical missionaries. Prompted by their astronomical British success, the Rollers then looked to replicate it on the other side of the Atlantic – despite the fact this had already proven to be a futile exercise for immediate pop predecessors like Marc Bolan and Slade. Yet the Rollers got off to the best possible start when ‘Saturday Night’ shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 at the beginning of 1976, an achievement that naturally booked them on the next flight to America.

But the timing of the Rollers’ Stateside expedition was especially unfortunate. In 1976, two emerging musical genres that would go on to dominate what remained of the 70s – Punk and Disco – were luring away sizeable chunks of the pop audience from the hormonal cauldron of the teenybop arena; at the same time, those unmoved by Donna Summer or The Sex Pistols were mesmerised by a certain self-contained Swedish hit-machine. Rollermania was also destined to be a temporary phenomenon – a necessary rites-of-passage ritual for teenage girls before boyfriends and babies, as well as being the last hysterical hurrah of a frenzied trend that defined the decade until it grew up and moved on. The band returned home from what turned out to be a short-lived stint in the American spotlight to find their audience diminished and the zeitgeist having relocated; they never scored another No.1.

However random or irrelevant this brief detour into the reassuringly safe refuge of pop culture history might appear to be, it is my roundabout way of making a point. Deciding to tentatively return to a medium I had no choice but to plunge into suspended animation five months ago might make it appear as though I reckon it’s ‘business-as-usual’ and we pick up where we left off in December. As much as it flatters my ego to imagine it, I’m aware that assuming all regular commentators and readers have spent every day of 2018 so far scanning their inbox first thing on a morning in the hope of seeing a notification informing them a new ‘Winegum Telegram’ post has appeared – and their days therefore being ruined as a consequence of this not coming to pass – is utterly absurd. Yes, I’m conscious kind comments have continued to periodically pepper the blog during the hiatus; but to envisage lives revolving around the proclamations of Chairman Petunia, and collapsing into complementary stasis in the absence of them, is a conceit even I would never countenance.

How do I explain why coming back to this has been so difficult? Oh, well – think of string and the length of it. Perhaps it’s been so difficult because ‘gifts’ that previously provided satisfaction and a sense of purpose (if an absence of income) lost their collective value for me. Experiencing a severe dent to self-confidence re my ‘creative capabilities’ was one reason for ruling out a return; recent reunions with old posts on here – read for the first time with real detachment – left me impressed albeit simultaneously disbelieving I’d written them. Yes, each element is connected and affected. One particularly devastating bombshell can have a big enough impact to bleed into every facet of one’s life, even areas that have no direct relation to it, triggering a chain reaction that can leave one pretty bloody winded. Until the event that knocked me for six, I could write a post for this, put a jolly little satirical video together for YouTube, and maybe even work on a novel – all in a day’s work. And now, everything has either slowed to a snail’s pace or ground to a complete halt, which is a crippling state of affairs for someone whose identity is defined by his creativity; this is actually the first prose I’ve written since December. Noting regular references to depressive bouts in past posts, I feel almost envious of the author’s naivety, realising I had no real idea how low I could go; but even someone with ‘previous’ isn’t prepared for the kind of emotional meltdown I’ve undergone, and Nietzche’s assertion that ‘if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you’ has been an unwelcome guest at my dinner table of late.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed news stories that I would no doubt have penned plenty posts about had I still been active; but being relieved of my duties has spared me extended exposure to items that would only have added to my unhealthy state of mind had I had to immerse myself in them via the compositional process. The necessity of such survival tactics means I’ve allowed the opening months of 2018 to pass me by in a way I never have with a year before; but I’ve been powerless to prevent my paralysing inertia. Having said that, I did manage to condense many of these headlines into one video a month or so ago, which felt like a small step in the right direction; it says what I felt needed to be said without having to devote a dozen posts to the subjects featured, so it was a tiny triumph of sorts.

Even with the invaluable support of close friends, however (many of whom have revealed touching depths of understanding and empathy), I remain frustratingly entrenched in a Groundhog Day distinctly lacking colour or joy and where the only thing I’ve been able to detect around the corner is a bloody great brick wall, forcing me to adopt the ‘one day at a time’ approach to life – one bereft of forward planning and predictions, though also, mercifully, devoid of Lena Martell’s greatest hit (Sweet Jesus).

During the darkest sections of this extremely dark tunnel, the only contemporary cultural artefact that seemed capable of holding my attention was BBC4’s French police series, ‘Spiral’ – and that was mainly because any wavering from the subtitles would bugger-up the plot, so I had no alternative but to concentrate. Otherwise, unable to focus for long on a book, I lost myself in a steady diet of DVDs that provided nostalgic comfort food for the head as well as solid no-nonsense drama that has stood up remarkably well 40 years on. Give ‘The Sandbaggers’ a try if you enjoy old-school Cold War espionage in the le Carré mode; one of you out there already has – that much I do know (according to the latest memo from C, anyway). Similarly, a superb album of eccentric curios and buried treasure unearthed by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs titled ‘English Weather’ got me through the winter on a loop, whereas Joni Mitchell at her mid-70s peak is easing me through the spring. Only wish these healing hands could carry me back to where I was before I needed them; but they can’t.

Knowing not if this post is one-night stand or series reboot, I can’t guarantee when the next one will be; but architectural historian Jonathan Glancey’s reflection on the sad descent of architectural critic Ian Nairn into drunken disillusionment and an all-too premature end feels relevant. ‘If you do fight continually against the things that make you angry,’ he said, ‘you get exhausted…exhausted in your mind, exhausted in your heart, and exhausted in your soul.’ Modesty prevents me from placing my own humble kicks against the pricks in the same league as Nairn’s poetic tirades aimed at architects and town-planners from the 50s to the 70s – tirades that graced the pages of national newspapers and networked TV screens. I do recognise a kindred spirit when I see one, however. Symptoms of Nairn’s downfall seem uncomfortably familiar as well, which is why any return to regular writing on here has to be motivated by a genuine compulsion to do it (rather than a misguided sense of obligation), believing I can do it, and being convinced people actually want to read it.

So, that’s the best I can do right now. You heard it here first. Okay. Until we meet again…soon, I hope…

© The Editor

THE GOOD-TIME GIRL NEXT-DOOR

Some exits appear preordained in terms of timing. That Christine Keeler should pass away just a month or so after Westminster was mired afresh in a so-called sex scandal that pretty much paled next to the one she will be forever associated with is pretty immaculate timing. Her death at the age of 75 also came just a week after declassified files revealed her brief beau John Profumo’s involvement with a Nazi spy in the 1930s. When the knee-touching exploits of Michael Fallon and the office porn of Damian Green hit the headlines, the Profumo Affair was never far away from being evoked again; but 1963 was a different world to 2017. Christine Keeler’s involvement with a prominent Cabinet Minister as well as an alleged Russian spy is often credited with not only contributing to the demise of a Tory Government, but for also shining a light on the double standards of our ‘betters’ that helped bring about the collapse of the curse known as deference.

Private orgies at one end and bits on the side at the other were equally permissible amongst the upper echelons of British society as long as discretion was practiced. Vices were not paraded as they had been during the Georgian era, but vices had never gone out of fashion; they’d merely gone behind closed doors. After all, it was the job of the ruling class to ‘set an example’ to the lower orders; if they fancied a bit of rough in a Lady Chatterley fashion, they went about it quietly because that was very much frowned upon. The social melting pot of clandestine gay drinking-dens was a perennial source of anxiety to the powers-that-be not so much because they were concerned about the ‘scourge’ of homosexuality, but because the mixing of the classes would negate deference and risk bringing about the downfall of all they held dear.

Working-class ‘tarts’ of either sex remained alluring forbidden fruit to the upper-classes, however, so it was no surprise that Christine Keeler and her fellow London night-club hostess Mandy Rice-Davies hooked-up with a man bearing the unforgettable job description of ‘Society Osteopath’, Stephen Ward. Ward opened the doors to that Society for two girls of humble means, and who could blame them for grabbing it with both hands at a time when their alternative options were both limited and humdrum? Ward’s impressive client list included Viscount Astor, bastion of the establishment, and rising star of the Conservative Party, John Profumo.

The affair between Profumo and Keeler was brief, as was the simultaneous liaison with Soviet naval attaché Eugene Ivanov, and chances are neither would have attracted any outside attention had not the police and press been drawn to an incident outside Ward’s plush Mews flat. Keeler’s jilted West Indian lover Johnny Edgecombe firing shots up at the window Keeler was hiding behind led to the exposure of the Profumo connection with Keeler and then Ivanov’s presence. In the wake of several spy scandals involving the likes of George Blake and John Vassall – not to mention the high-profile defection of Kim Philby – any Russian association with members of the aristocracy was bound to provoke jitters, and Labour naturally exploited the situation when MP George Wigg employed parliamentary privilege to accuse Profumo of having an affair with Keeler. The Secretary of State for War was forced to deny it in the Commons; it was this lie, and the resignation that followed the subsequent admission he’d lied, that condemned him in the eyes of his peers.

However, it was Stephen Ward who was really hung out to dry by the establishment, charged with living off immoral earnings – something Keeler always denied – and tried at the Old Bailey in the summer of 1963. Journalist, broadcaster and campaigner Ludovic Kennedy described the guilty sentence handed out to Ward as a blatant miscarriage of justice; but before Ward could be made an example of by the loathsome set who’d nominated him as a patsy, the abandoned osteopath had slipped into a coma courtesy of a deliberate overdose that resulted in his death three days later. Christine Keeler ended up inside for nine months on a charge of perjury relating to the overturned sentencing of Johnny Edgecombe’s love rival Lucky Gordon. John Profumo left politics and devoted the rest of his life to charitable works in the East End of London.

Between the public revelation of her affair with Profumo and the death of Ward, Christine Keeler was perhaps the most infamous young woman in the country. That her infamy should come at a moment when a changing of the social guard was already gathering speed via the breakthrough of The Beatles and the defiantly non-deferential satire boom in retrospect seems no coincidence. The iconic shot of her sat naked on a chair – perhaps the first of the Swinging decade’s such images – was memorably parodied on the cover of ‘Private Eye’ by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Keeler’s seat. Macmillan himself was gone by that autumn, citing ill-health, yet with his replacement being the Earl of Home, the Tories had clearly learnt nothing, assuming the default toff would save the day. He didn’t, and Harold Wilson led Labour back to power a year later after 13 years in opposition. The times they definitely were a-changing.

The exposure of the ruling class as decadent hypocrites trashed forever their self-appointed role as the nation’s moral guardians, whereas Christine Keeler’s overnight notoriety was a novel innovation for a girl born with a plastic spoon in her mouth. We’re used to working-class girls-made-good spread across our tabloid pages in the twenty-first century; that didn’t really happen before Keeler. Whether or not we can hold her responsible for the cast of ‘Geordie Shore’ isn’t perhaps a legacy she’d have wished to lay claim to, though she had to live the rest of her life in the shadow of something she did in her early 20s, both despising the fact yet ultimately dependent upon it for an income. But the timing of her arrival in 1963 was nevertheless as perfect as that of her exit in 2017.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

THE LOST WORLD

I was talking to a friend the other night about my brief stint as a Big Gig-goer in the late 80s. I saw Bowie twice, as well as Dylan, the Stones and Prince once each within a three-year period and I did it all whilst signing-on, suggesting the ticket prices (not to mention the obligatory coach travel costs) weren’t that extortionate. The stubs from said gigs are probably gathering dust in my mum’s loft, so I’m unable to announce here and now how much I was charged for the privilege of being squeezed into Roker Park, Maine Road, Wembley Arena and the NEC; but a cursory glance at vintage ticket stubs from the same era on eBay suggests that even when the change in the cost of living is taken into account, the gap between wages (or dole) and ticket prices wasn’t that great a gulf.

It goes without saying that those were the days when touring was a handy sideline rather than the prime source of earning for musicians; like being able to turn up at your local football club on match-day without having to take out a loan beforehand, it was possible to see your musical heroes in the flesh for an affordable amount. The simple reason was that record sales financed their tax-exiles back then; even though there wasn’t much difference between the price of seeing them live and the price of their new album, the album would sell to more people than could attend a tour, thus negating the need to hike up ticket prices to a point where they’d be beyond the reach of fans short on ready cash. Not so now, in this post-Napster world.

Other the Ronnie Biggs model (which is itself redundant now the drugs market brings in a far higher income than an old-school blag), Rock ‘n’ Roll and football were the tried and tested working-class escape routes, as well as passionate pursuits for those who couldn’t sing a tune or kick a ball. The audience projected its own aspirations onto the performer, who had come from the same place, and believed it was possible to do likewise. The view from the terraces on a Saturday afternoon was similarly imbued with possibilities, especially for those youngsters hemmed into ‘the boy’s pen’.

There was considerable media coverage when England’s U17 team won their equivalent of the World Cup a couple of weeks back, though few members of that starting eleven will make it off the bench at Premier League clubs crammed with overseas signings. And unless a boy or girl from nowhere is prepared to suffer the indignity and humiliation of being a Cowell marionette, the only kids who can afford guitars, basses and drums today are the posh ones – which would explain why none of them have anything to say. Classic working-class pastimes have effectively priced out the working-class. But, hey, we’ve got Smartphones, X-Factor and microwave meals – what more do we need, eh?

Even the theatre was once an escape; some of our most iconic actors of the 60s and 70s came from humble backgrounds, but getting into drama school without the fear of being saddled with a lifelong debt and then honing their skills on the regional rep circuit is a lost world in 2017. The slashing of local council budgets that previously funded after-school drama classes and theatre workshops runs parallel with Government emphasis on the arts as a ‘luxury’ in state education (not much point reciting Shakespeare soliloquies when you’re cold-calling, I suppose). By contrast, the arts remain a fixture on the public school syllabus, which would explain why the majority of today’s under-40 household name thespians are Old Etonians. Their parents could afford to finance such ‘luxury’.

Considering the last time the economic climate was probably this grim was in the recession-struck early 1980s, it’s worth remembering what that period produced in terms of art reflecting life; and memorable music aside, it’s been interesting to recently reunite with a one-off TV series of the era that has unexpectedly surfaced on DVD. And, no, it’s not ‘Boys from The Blackstuff’.

‘Johnny Jarvis’ aired just the once on BBC1 at the back-end of 1983, and at the time of its broadcast was a must-see at my high-school. Appearing at the tail-end of the gritty social realism characteristic of ‘Play for Today’, this six-parter accurately documented the scrap-heap we Easter Leavers were poised to be tossed onto. The title character was played by Mark Farmer – a familiar juvenile lead at the time via his stint on ‘Grange Hill’, and who sadly passed away last year. Jarvis is the focus of his best friend, the bookish outsider Alan Lipton; Jarvis is a borderline ‘David Watts’ character to Lipton, both envied and idolised. But whilst Jarvis is dutifully subservient to the system once he leaves school, his subservience amounts to nothing when the firm he’s apprenticed to goes under before he fully qualifies as a skilled tradesman.

Lipton opts out and finds his voice with a guitar, starting a band he continues to write for after he forgoes the spotlight, leaving fame to his ex-bandmates whilst he settles for fortune. The steady progress of Lipton’s musical endeavours as the series spans 1977-1983 is a vivid demonstration of how such a thing was then possible from the starting point of a council flat; Jarvis’s struggles to make a living in the traditional heavy industries that were dying on their arses under Thatcherism are equally prescient for the era, and watching the programme after a 34-year gap really brought home to me how much has changed.

It not only reminded me of how those coming from nothing were able to articulate their experiences and could make themselves heard doing so. It also made me realise how those experiences wouldn’t be dramatised by mainstream television today. There is no working-class representation now unless we’re talking stereotypical chavvy thugs in gangs or victims of sexual abuse; and those playing such parts probably learnt their lines in end-of-term productions on the stages of Harrow or Roedean, anyway. Sixty years ago, Arthur Seaton said ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’; well, they have ground us down and they’ve got us where they want us – complicit in our own lethargy. Never mind the bollocks – here’s the Bake Off.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510334323&sr=1-1&dpID=41ppifNq5pL&preST=_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

THAT WAS THE DAY, THAT WAS

I thought I might write about the fact that Spain has imposed direct rule upon Catalonia and has, in the process, stripped the region of its autonomous status; but as this is a subject I’ve covered a couple of times of late, I figured it would be wiser to wait till the next development before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). I’ve a feeling there’s more to come where this particular story is concerned, and whatever I add to what I’ve already written will only needed to be added to again pretty soon after. I suppose I could also bemoan the fact yet another public figure has had to issue yet another public apology for something he said that offended somebody – i.e. Michael Gove’s ‘outrageous’ Weinstein joke; yes, Gove is a twat, but how many more times do we have to endure online outrage before we say enough is enough?

Okay, so sod the day today and dip into weekend nostalgia once more. My choice of Saturday night viewing as the rest of the nation plugged into talent show tripe was the 1973 movie, ‘That’ll Be The Day’, which itself dips into nostalgia for an earlier era. By the date of the film’s production, the pop culture revolution of the 60s had reached the point whereby it paused for breath for the first time and looked back over its shoulder at the remarkable journey it had made in little short of 15 years. In the US, the likes of Todd Rundgren condensed those 15 years into his oeuvre as pop realised it had a past, whilst stage musicals moved from the contemporary concerns of ‘Hair’ and escaped into the safer sentimental refuge of ‘Grease’; simultaneously, on this side of the pond Roxy Music and Wizzard revived the dormant 50s spirit by injecting it with some trashy 70s glamour as they were surrounded in the charts by a string of reissues.

‘That’ll Be The Day’ cast David Essex in the lead role of Jim MacLaine, a composite character of the Lennon/McCartney/Jagger/Richards generation, beginning life as a war-baby whose parents’ marriage is a casualty of conflict and then growing up to reject the novel new grammar school path to higher education courtesy of an imported youthquake that opens a door to alternate possibilities not dependent upon the results of exams. Essex was largely unknown to the general public when he won the role, though had made a mark in the archetypal turn-of-the 70s Rock Opera, ‘Godspell’; within a matter of months of the film’s premiere, he had become a bona-fide pop star, but he shared the spotlight in ‘That’ll Be The Day’ with genuine veterans of the period it recycles.

The likes of Keith Moon and Billy Fury feature in small cameos, though the real coup at the time was securing Ringo Starr as the street-wise Mike, who accompanies Jim on his journey through the rites-of-passage Butlin’s experience and then onto the fairground circuit. Starr had himself been a beneficiary of the holiday camp summer season during his pre-Beatles membership of rival Liverpool band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and the fact the Fab Four remained viable pop currency when the movie was shot undoubtedly aided its box-office success.

A pre-‘Citizen Smith’ Robert Lindsay also features as Jim MacLaine’s best mate at school, the swot who did as he was told when Jim ran away; his college life embraces the Trad Jazz and obligatory beard that serve to sever the friendship when the two old pals reunite a couple of years after Jim escapes the preordained path his mother laid out for him. Jim eventually returns home and belatedly attempts to fit in, marrying the sister of the Robert Lindsay character and impregnating her before the allure of Rock ‘n’ Roll proves too great. By the time we rejoin him in the following year’s sequel, ‘Stardust’, Jim MacLaine is the leader of a Beatles-esque band whose rise to fame and fortune has left his old life behind.

Critics have often labelled the two acts of Jim MacLaine’s fictional life ‘old wine newly bottled’, though the old wine was of a relatively recent vintage when the movie and its sequel were produced. I first saw the pair myself less than ten years after they premiered, when they constituted part of BBC2’s ‘Rock Week’ in the late summer of 1982, an early example of television ‘streaming’, with a series of loosely connected programmes on a theme spread over seven days. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Jim MacLaine’s mother projecting her own thwarted academic ambitions onto her offspring would be mirrored in my own life a couple of years later – something that provoked an instinctive rejection from me that ‘Stardust’ and its document of Jim MacLaine’s career as a pop idol provided an antidote to. For further reading, see the post from a couple of weeks back, ‘Musical Youth’.

In ‘Stardust’, Adam Faith steals most of the scenes he’s in as Jim’s devoted manager, albeit one who’s unable to save his golden egg-laying charge from the characteristic drug-induced exit of the period come the movie’s traumatic ending. Purely by coincidence, Slade’s solitary cinematic outing, ‘Flame’, appeared at a cinema near you at virtually the same time; considering Noddy and the lads had such a happy-go-lucky image, ‘Flame’ unexpectedly portrays the music biz in a similarly dark light as ‘Stardust’, chronicling the rise and fall of another fictional 60s band with equal cynicism. By 1974, the workings of the industry and the creative casualties it had left in its wake as Philistines in suits racked up the royalties had bred a disdain for its practices that helped provoke Punk a couple of years later, even though that generation didn’t fare any financially better than its predecessor.

Whilst it’s true that ‘That’ll Be The Day’ speaks the language of anyone who’s ever asserted their independence and challenged the consensus, whereas ‘Stardust’ documents the dream that used to fire the imaginations of the imaginative and was therefore only reality for a select few, the alternative available when Jim MacLaine walks out on domestic bliss is one that is no longer an option. Richard Ashcroft’s high-street stroll in the promo video for The Verve’s 1997 epic, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, is now the fate of the outsider who never got away – despondent and defeated, though retaining a healthy contempt for the world about him, bereft as he is of social mobility, pining for the vanished riches of Rock ‘n’ Roll. From Jim MacLaine to Victor Meldrew in half-a-century.

© The Editor

https://www.epubli.de//shop/buch/Looking-for-Alison-Johnny-Monroe-9783745059861/63240

CRIME TRAVELLING

A week consisting of Brexit negotiations threatening to rival ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ in the long, drawn-out tedium stakes; a red sky overturning the old farmer’s saying by transforming it into an end-of-the-world-is-nigh omen; and our boys in blue plumbing unprecedented depths, taking to the streets in fancy dress as a contrived distraction from rising crime figures (‘social workers with Tasers’ as someone aptly described them on Twitter). Jesus, it’s no wonder I’ve sought escapism when it comes to offline downtime; and I’ve taken a route which is my own reliable visual equivalent of comfort food.

The last time this country felt this grim for many was at the end of the 1970s, and though the Winter of Discontent even impinged upon my pre-pubescent existence via a lorry drivers’ strike affecting the distribution of comics to the local newsagent’s, I can honestly say I’d rather be there than here. Having never passed my Tardis driving test, I have to make do with travelling back in time via the dependable DVD box-set; current flavour-of-the-month is the BBC’s downbeat gumshoe drama from 1979/80, ‘Shoestring’. The series accurately captures the weariness at the winding-down of what had been a testing decade, yet there’s something undeniably appealing about its atmosphere of stoic refusal to succumb to the kind of histrionic panic that runs through contemporary discourse – a resignation, yes, but not a surrender.

The title character of Eddie Shoestring, played with charismatic understatement by the then-unknown Trevor Eve, is undoubtedly a victim of his times, though triumphing over his demons without pleading for sympathy epitomises a certain unfussy British characteristic we appear to have subsequently lost. Eddie is recovering from a mental breakdown that occurred during his career ‘working in computers’; his rehabilitation at a clinic saw him devour pulp fiction, which in turn opened up a new career path as a private detective. Successfully utilising what would now probably be diagnosed as latent autism, Eddie’s unique talents are spotted by a local radio station; Radio West’s debonair manager Don Satchley (played by British acting stalwart Michael Medwin) senses a novel ratings winner and hires Eddie as the station’s ‘private ear’, inviting listeners to request Eddie’s services in the hope the cases will eventually make for an intriguing broadcast.

Eddie lodges with a sexy legal eagle called Erica, with whom he has a casual on-off bedtime relationship, though the viewer gets the impression Eddie really isn’t bothered too much by any of that stuff. Work is what really brings out the best in him. His slovenly appearance and cavalier disregard for authority complements his genuine compassion for the little people whose problems he endeavours to solve; and, like the unfairly-maligned ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ before it, it is the little people that ‘Shoestring’ focuses on. Contrasting with the macho bluster of ‘The Sweeney’ (which ended the year before ‘Shoestring’ debuted) and ‘The Professionals’ (which ITV scheduled in direct competition to the Beeb’s unconventional sleuth), the series has a human and humane regard for those who are often overlooked in life, let alone TV dramas. Character is central to the plot of each episode, and the lead is a fascinating, vulnerable individual ideal for a premise that wouldn’t work with a Regan, a Carter, a Bodie or a Doyle.

The series was based and mainly shot in the West Country, providing a refreshing alternative to the usual London locations then predominant in home-grown drama; there may be a trumpeted trend to shoot series outside of the capital on television today, though Manchester and Cardiff are shot through the same Dystopian lens as London, portraying them with indistinguishable urban clichés which makes one wonder why film crews bother exiting Watford Gap. ‘Shoestring’ also gives a distinctly British twist to the quirky private eye genre which was almost exclusively American at the time, with the likes of Rockford and Columbo still on their original runs. It gave early breaks to actors who would carve out glittering careers (I spotted Daniel Day-Lewis in one episode) as well as established actors nearing the end of their careers – and their lives – such as Harry H Corbett and Diana Dors.

‘Shoestring’ occasionally dips its toes into the pop culture of the era in which it was made. Toyah Willcox features heavily in an episode, playing a ‘punk singer’, ably assisted by an impressive supporting cast including the likes of Gary Holton, Peter Dean, Christopher Biggins, Lynda Bellingham and even Mick Jagger’s brother Chris. The only other series at the turn-of-the 80s that evokes the period with the same blend of charm and cynicism is ‘Minder’, which coincidentally aired for the first time that same autumn of 1979. However, unlike Dennis Waterman and George Cole’s vehicle, which was something of a slow-burner, ‘Shoestring’ was an overnight success, undeniably aided by the ITV strike of August-October 1979, which gave the series a massive ratings head-start when ITV was its sole competitor.

Yes, the cars – Eddie drives a battered Cortina estate – and the fashions are portals to another country, as is the soundtrack; with its radio station setting, the series is peppered with hits from 1979/80, a chart era especially rich in memorable pop. But there’s something about ‘Shoestring’ that makes it particularly attractive in 2017. It’s not just the look and the sound of the series; it’s also the fact that the characters are likeable and believable. A lot of that is down to the cast, but it’s also down to the solid writing from experienced telly hacks as well as skilled newcomers, both graduates from the BBC when its role was that of a creative university, training talent to do what it said on the tin with panache and personality. There’s a welcome absence of that strain of TV writing today that bludgeons and baffles viewers with storylines trying hard to be clever and complex when they’re actually self-indulgent exercises in abysmally emulating Nordic and American styles.

Trevor Eve’s theatrical and cinematic ambitions curtailed ‘Shoestring’ after just two seasons, and even though Eve retrospectively regrets he didn’t make at least one more series, the fact the programme ended when it did preserves it in a specific moment we shall never see again – a moment in which milkmen were still on the dawn streets to witness a murder, and a moment when private eyes couldn’t be contacted when out on an investigation until they passed a phone-box and rang home. So, tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1979, in the company of Eddie Shoestring.

© The Editor

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DON’T HAVE NIGHTMARES

Catchphrases generally tend to be the province of comedians and sitcom characters, though they can also be attached to public figures, usually by impressionists looking for an angle. It’s questionable that Denis Healey ever said ‘Silly Billy’, and most now know that Humphrey Bogart’s famous line from ‘Casablanca’ wasn’t ‘Play it again, Sam’; but these things stick. One catchphrase that everyone of a certain age will always associate with the TV programme it sprang from is rarely misquoted because it was genuinely said at the end of each show – ‘Don’t have nightmares’.

If the announcement that the BBC is axing ‘Crimewatch’ after 33 years on air will provoke any protests, they will probably only be half-hearted and rooted in misguided nostalgia, as often happens whenever a long-running series that stretches back in the collective memory ends. But the audience figures speak volumes because few people are watching the series anymore; I don’t think I’ve seen it myself since the edition following the murder of Jill Dando in 1999. At its peak years during the 80s, it could attract upwards of 14 million viewers, though few shows can attract those kinds of numbers today anyway. However, as the premise of the programme has centred on audience interaction from its 1984 debut, an appeal to catch a criminal made before 14 million means the chances of the crook being caught are greater than if four and five million are appealed to; and those are the viewing figures the show can boast now.

During my recent meanderings on YouTube, I came across a Yorkshire Television continuity clip from the turn-of-the 80s; the ads were suddenly – and somewhat dramatically – interrupted by a caption on a black background that read ‘POLICE MESSAGE’. The announcer appealing for help in locating a missing teenager did so in a fittingly sober tone that was quite a contrast with the usual light one adopted when introducing ‘Paint Along with Nancy’. I guess, pre-‘Crimewatch’, such occasional announcements served the same purpose as the old ‘SOS’ broadcasts did on the radio airwaves, and stumbling upon the clip almost 40 years on was a reminder of how television once did what social media can do today.

The clip also demonstrated that this aspect of the medium could be expanded in a classic example of TV’s public service remit, one it still regarded as important even as late as the 1980s. Shaw Taylor’s ‘Police 5’ had pioneered a similar idea in the ITV London region since 1962, though the fact the series wasn’t networked and only ran for five minutes at a time limited its ability to do what ‘Crimewatch’ aimed to; that said, Taylor’s own catchphrase, ‘Keep ‘em peeled’, became more well-known than the series itself due to it being repeated on numerous 70s sitcoms produced in the capital. ‘Crimewatch’ (or ‘Crimewatch UK’ as it was originally known) would be broadcast nationwide and would run for an hour.

Outside of ordinary people making fools of themselves on ‘The Generation Game’, the general public’s involvement in TV broadcasting was rare in the 70s. BBC2 had its ‘Open Door’ strand, in which a brief platform was given to anyone who had something to say – though they usually appeared to be unhinged eccentrics representing some bonkers fringe political party – and there was always ‘That’s Life’. But instant interaction was more or less unheard of until the debut of ‘The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop’ in 1976. The backroom girls manning the phone-lines were in full view of the viewers, and those viewers (if they were lucky) could end up speaking live on the telephone to whichever star Noel Edmonds was interviewing. If this idea could be developed and transplanted to a serious factual programme, there could well be an appetite for it, though it took a further eight years before the BBC decided to try out the experiment.

Concerns that the police as well as victims of crime might be reluctant to share their stories with millions of viewers proved unfounded as ‘Crimewatch’ was an overnight success. Choosing trusted and dependable broadcasters Nick Ross and Sue Cook to anchor the show helped ease viewers into the unfamiliar format, though its formula soon caught on and became as recognisable as anything else on TV. The reconstructions of crimes using unknown actors were spared the melodramatic background music used on the likes of ‘America’s Most Wanted’, but the bad acting could undeniably make them unintentionally entertaining, despite the seriousness of the crime. When a routine by comedian Peter Kay years later drew upon the tedium of witness voiceovers accompanying these reconstructions, his audience groaned in unison, so familiar was the programme’s hallmark style by then.

There was a certain charm to the woodenness of police officers addressing the public on the show, emanating as they did from an age before media training was regarded as an important element of the job. But the absence of slickness on the part of Chief Supt. David Hatcher and his sidekick PC Helen Phelps reflected the fact that this was a programme in which professional presentation was secondary to getting results. That, at its height of popularity, the show drew in the kind of audiences that would today only gather round their sets to watch a talent show finale or an England World Cup match is another aspect of how the priorities of TV, both in terms of programme-makers and programme-watchers, have altered since 1984.

Unlike other factual crime shows on British TV today, which use the sensationalistic template of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ in chronicling a crime (and are usually presented by the loathsome Mark Williams Thomas), ‘Crimewatch’ wasn’t there to pander to the same vicarious impulses that keep the memoirs of cockney gangsters riding high in the bestsellers’ lists. It had a valid purpose. 1 in 3 ‘Crimewatch’ appeals have led to an arrest, whilst 1 in 5 have led to a conviction; of a third of cases solved via a ‘Crimewatch’ appeal, half have been as a direct result of viewers’ calls. In its first 25 years, the show had a part to play in the capture of 57 murderers as well as 53 sex offenders and 18 paedophiles.

Apparently, the series was most recently presented by Jeremy Vine, which is really the kiss of death for any programme; but the television medium as it exists in this century is a different beast to the one it was in the last century – as is the country itself. Nick Ross left ‘Crimewatch’ ten years ago; when did your nightmares begin?

© The Editor

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MUSICAL YOUTH

A paragraph from the previous post provoked this one, and if you haven’t read it, where have you been? Anyway, let’s go back 30 years. Actually, I’d rather not; if 2017 is pretty grim, I can’t say I rated 1987 much at the time either and it doesn’t acquire a nostalgic glow the further away I travel from it. The stuff I cared about then – general popular culture and pop music in particular – was, in my opinion, rubbish; there were a couple of contemporary exceptions, but I was a scholar of what is now referred to as ‘Classic Rock’. I also extended my appreciation of the recent past to then-unfashionable 70s pop such as Abba and The Bee Gees, acts who had yet to receive the kitsch makeover the next generation would give them. The arrogance of youth told me I could do better than what the present was offering me as a record-buyer.

My mate Paul played the guitar; I wrote the lyrics. Between us, we moulded them into melodies which I sang; Paul provided the riffs. He and I shared a wavelength neither of us shared with anyone else; Paul was the first friend I’d had who looked like he could’ve been in the Stones rather than Curiosity Killed The Cat, and we sparred off one another in our attempts to resemble rock stars. He was as much of an outsider in his part of town as I was in mine, and we’d both experienced run-ins with ‘the beer monsters’; city centre streets may have been low on knife crime and acid attacks in the 80s, but you still had to watch yourself. It was easier when there were two of you.

We’d spend virtually every weekday ensconced in Paul’s bedroom at his mum’s house, listening to a range of LPs from the extensive record collection he’d amassed during his brief stint in 9-to-5 Land. We studied and absorbed the masters; it was our university. Eventually, I’d produce my exercise book crammed with lyrics, he’d tune up his acoustic guitar, and we’d devote the next few hours to putting a song together; if it was any good, we’d record it on his ghetto blaster and improve it the following day before moving onto the next one. We were hungry to make our mark, and though we may have been dreaming the dreams many music-obsessed young men dream, we were prepared to put the work in.

After several months of assembling a songbook, we decided to locate other musicians, and there was no shortage of venues to visit where we could check them out. Unfortunately, it took time to find like-minds; commitment was hard to come across. Rehearsal space wasn’t, but as Paul and me were both signing-on, it could be a stretch to pay for it. A room above a pub with an unsavoury reputation as the hostelry of choice for football hooligans was the one we eventually settled on because it was the one we could afford. By then, we’d acquired a bass-player and drummer, though it had taken well over a year of searching and numerous disappointments before we got there.

Our first gig was on the bill of an all-day event featuring dozens of local bands, staged in one of the many pubs that packed the punters in by hosting live music. In a dense fog of fags, and fuelled by booze that was probably less than a quid a glass, we took to the stage, collectively crapping ourselves. We had the usual repertoire of crowd-pleasing standards, such as ‘Teenage Kicks’, but primarily showcased our own material. We were rather under-rehearsed, but went on in the late afternoon, by which time the well-sozzled audience greeted every act with enthusiasm. I can’t honestly remember how many numbers we played; I mainly remember wearing a second-hand psychedelic jacket, which a lady complimented me on – the first such compliment a lady had ever paid me. It wasn’t a bad day.

We recorded a demo tape – tape being the operative word, as the songs went straight from reel-to-reel acetate to cassette; the recording studio cost what must have been a small fortune to us then, and we had to record and mix four songs with the clock rapidly ticking towards the end of the time we could pay for. We didn’t sound bad, and it’s undoubtedly invigorating when you hear yourself in top-notch quality sound for the first time. The end result received reviews in regional fanzines and was optimistically dispatched along the tried-and-tested route that led to John Peel and the music industry. We played a few more gigs: one as support to another local band in another pub, one on our own (in another pub), and one on the bill of another all-day event – this time in a pub car-park. That gig turned out to be our last.

We had the impossible task of following a folk duo singing a song called ‘F**k Off, Yuppie Scum’ to the tune of ‘Knees-Up, Mother Brown’; but we were such a shambles on the final performance that I actually apologised to the audience who were too pissed in the summer sun to even notice. We hadn’t rehearsed in weeks. The drummer was still at school and this was just a hobby to him; the bass-player enjoyed jamming but had no real interest in being a professional; and Paul was smoking a lot of dope, perhaps to cope with the fact we were going nowhere after all the work he and I had put into it. Our friendship survived, but our musical partnership didn’t. We never shared the same vision thereafter; I got into the nascent Dance scene, whereas he preferred chilling out to ‘Astral Weeks’. We’d had high hopes, but we’d crashed and we’d burned.

Paul and I had probably squandered twelve months searching for other musicians because we were so determined to do it the traditional way we revered. Today, we wouldn’t need them; we’d have the technology to create a ‘virtual’ band and we could record on bedroom PCs without having to bankrupt ourselves for studio time, uploading our endeavours online to a worldwide audience. We wouldn’t have to bombard record companies or the music press because neither exists anymore; but we’d struggle to play live because the gig circuit has gone along with the pubs that were vital to it. We also wouldn’t have the dole to subsidise our musical education and we wouldn’t have the money to invest in instruments.

They weren’t great days. They were frustrating and disappointing. We gave our all to something that eluded us, and whilst it genuinely doesn’t bother me now that we didn’t make it, it always seems a shame that all the dynamic verve and energy we exuded was drained from us in such in a depressingly crushing manner – though we weren’t the first and we weren’t the last either. Les McQueen from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ (guitarist with Crème Brulée, a 70s band that never made it) would look back by saying ‘It’s a shit business; I’m glad I’m out of it’; but I don’t regret doing it. Everyone should give it a go and then gracefully exit the stage when it all goes tits up. It’s an experience that prepares you for the rest of your life.

© The Editor

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